What the Heck(er)?

Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky)

Drone is not a genre of music I am that familiar with, in the past when I have heard tracks described as such (and it’s a pretty self-explanatory genre name) they have not really held my attention for more than a few minutes. Eluvium’s “Talk Amongst The Trees” is a good example, after loving “Copia” I was looking forward to hearing TATT but found it really quite tedious (it’s possibly overdue a revisit, especially now). But having heard Canadian sound artist Tim Hecker’s new album and becoming slightly addicted to listening to it on headphones late at night, I may have to rethink my assumptions about the genre.

It also lands me with a slight issue regarding this review, I’m not sure how to describe what this album contains, the common understanding of “music” is melody, lyrics, a start, middle and end. As a lazy amateur reviewer I can usually compare what I am reviewing to other artists to try and give a feeling of it to readers, but not this. The one thing that I feel from this album is texture, it may seem odd to describe something that is not physical as having a texture but sound can surely be so described, and nowhere is this more evident than here. I sometimes wish I experienced synesthesia with music, a lot of people describe seeing colours or patterns when they hear music and I can only imagine what a joy this album would be if accompanied by technicolour visions, I’d only want a mild case mind, some unfortunate folks with more extreme versions of the condition experience taste and smell associated with sounds which must make life very difficult.

This album was recorded (in one day!) in a church in Reykjavik, Iceland and the instrument used for the basis of all the tracks on the album is a pipe organ. But throughout the record you can also hear other sounds that would normally be edited out becoming part of the overall soundscape, the sounds of fingers on frets, muted voices and sounds of people and things moving around in the background enable you to imagine the grand airy church as you listen, the hypnotic, almost oppressive, atmosphere washing over and around you (I urge you to listen to this on a good pair of headphones!)

The first track “The Piano Drop” (clearly referring to the photo on the cover) serves as a good intro to an unsuspecting listener such as I was, it’s almost like a deconstructed rave tune, flirting with melody only to break down and decay as it morphs into the first section of “In The Fog”. Hecker himself has said that he had been consumed with sonic decay, “I became obsessed with digital garbage,” he said. “Like when the Kazakstan government cracks down on piracy and there’s pictures of 10 million DVDs and CDRs being pushed by bulldozers.” (thanks to Pitchfork for the quote)

The whole album is like one piece with all the tracks flowing into and out of each other, forming a seamless whole, yet each track retains its individuality, serving to hold my attention. Track “No Drums” has a muted quality, almost as if you are listening to it through the wall of the house next door, whereas following track “Hatred of Music” contains washes of notes bending in pitch like fields of corn in the wind. The fret squeaks and muted thumping sounds in “Analog Paralysis, 1978” sound like distant fireworks. Sounds build and ebb, the louder parts of the album crunch and throb around one’s head only to calm down leaving the listener breathlessly awaiting the next shift in their perception.

This is challenging music, not something you put on while doing the washing up or ironing, and it’s not going to be for everyone. But, if you have the time, patience and inclination I urge you to spend fifty minutes to let this wonderful album take you away, possibly to somewhere you’ve not been before.

You can listen to it here on Spotify (although the little gaps between the tracks kind of ruin the flow of the whole thing). You can also check out a track on the Soundcloud widget below, but again, taken out of context on its own it loses the flow.

Hatred of Music I

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  1. #1 by Kuz on March 24, 2011 - 10:08 pm

    You should check out Ben Frost’s Theory of Machines. Frost engineered this album and is closely associated with Tim Hecker (and based in Iceland I think). It’s also very hard to describe – very abstract and experimental but much more involving that someone like Autechre. I may have to put this one on my to-listen list as it’s getting strong reviews.

  2. #2 by Rich on March 25, 2011 - 1:41 pm

    I will do that, I’d seen his name mentioned in reviews of this (I also read he is based in Iceland).

    Yeah, Autechre have never really grabbed me, a little too much glitch and discomfort, they never did strike me as a pleasant listen!

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